Susan Woodring’s second novel Goliath shimmers with images of the confines of small town life and the possibility of escape. When a teenager named Vincent finds the body of Percy Harding, the town’s richest citizen and founder, crushed beside the railroad tracks, the boy keeps looking upward, at anything but death. In this moment, Woodring describes a flock of blackbirds crossing the sky in a “shifting amoeba” and a sky so bright that “it seemed he could plunge his open hand into its blueness.”
Sad and confused, the townspeople of Goliath avoid facing the questions raised by the suicide of Harding who employed virtually everyone at his furniture company and who seemed a paragon of leadership. He inspired both loyalty and love, most deeply in Rosamond Rogers, his secretary.
A rash of strange behaviors overtakes the town after Vincent makes his discovery. At the high school, a girls’ suicide-poetry cult deposits pink-construction-paper messages in odd places, defending the “right to choose death.” Vincent swallows bugs and lit cigarettes.
Rosamond, the abandoned wife of a traveling salesman, and the town’s most discomfiting oddball, tries to make sense of Harding’s death. In the process, she cleans her house so thoroughly that by the end of her efforts all that’s left is her orange swing coat hanging in the closet. She has been known to visit the town bar after midnight, drink gin and soda, and dance with married men, but now, townspeople who ordinarily shun Rosamond begin to lean in close on the street, in bars and in stores and confess their shameful secrets.
Goliath’s street preacher, Ray, gears up his message of love and redemption, while his father, Clyde, the police chief, prowls the streets at night, watching for people who need help more than law enforcement. For Rosamond and her daughter Agnes, old loves keep showing up like ghosts of the past.
After a second suicide—of a despairing teenage girl—the town is shocked into uncomfortable self-awareness. The townspeople soon learn that Harding Furniture is bankrupt and realize that they have no place to go but gone.
But before the town’s citizens can leave, Rosamond decides to plan an event that will unite the entire community one more time. She realizes that “it [is] possible to get rid of yourself . . . by walking into big sadness or hope.” Her event, a perfect reflection of her oddball nature, brings more than a few surprises.
Full of rich characters and home-town philosophers, Goliath is a meditation on how communities avert their eyes from difficult neighbors and difficult truths. Far from despairing, Woodring’s novel is a compassionate, eyes-open love letter to a place where For Sale signs have taken over whole neighborhoods and where capitalist heroes are in short supply. In such a place, Woodring suggests that unlikely leaders can bring people together just as those same people are making plans to scatter to the wind.